by Stacy Bruce
Are you an importer of garments? Have you had quality problems with the finished goods? Are you unsure about what steps you need to take to manage quality control for garments?
The areas involved in quality control for garments aren’t, in a broad sense, all that different from those for other product types. You’ll probably want to inspect the goods before they leave the warehouse. And you may want to carry out some testing, on-site and in a qualified laboratory.
But there are a few specific areas that will be uniquely important to managing the quality of your garments. Here is a breakdown of three of the most important ones:
Measuring dimensions is a critical aspect of quality control for garments. If an item of clothing doesn’t fit the end-consumer, they probably won’t buy it or will return it.
When creating the specifications for your garments, it’s important to remember that each piece will be handmade. Other types of products, such as injection-molded toys, are typically made with very standardized production methods to that provide consistency between pieces.
But garments are handmade pieces, which don’t benefit from the cookie-cutter consistency afforded to other type of products. So you’re more likely to find discrepancy between pieces of clothing. With this in mind, you should provide a tolerance for each dimension to your supplier and product inspector that allows for a small margin of error.
Some dimensions for garments may be greater in size or less crucial to the overall fit of the garment. In this case, a higher tolerance might be used for that particular dimension. Other times the nature of the item or dimension might allow for a lower margin of error–a lower tolerance.
For example, if you’re manufacturing prom dresses, you’ll likely provide your inspector with dimensions and measurements for various sizes of an item. One such dimension might include “shoulder width from edge to edge.” This might be a less-forgiving dimension with a relatively small discrepancy of 1/8” to ensure a proper fit. A looser tolerance of 1/4” might be used for another dimension, such as “neck width from edge to edge”.
|ALL MEASUREMENTS IN 1/2||BASE|
|POINT OF MEASUREMENTS (POM)||TOL (+/-)||12||14||16||18|
|1||NECK WIDTH FROM EDGE TO EDGE (Shldr Forward 1/2″)||1/4||10||10 1/4||10 1/2||10 3/4|
|2||FRONT NECK DROP FROM HPS||1/4||4 3/8||4 1/2||4 5/8||4 3/4|
|3||BACK NECK DROP FROM HPS||1/4||4 1/8||4 1/4||4 3/8||4 1/2|
|4||SHOULDER WIDTH FROM EDGE TO EDGE EACH SIDES||1/8||1 3/4||1 3/4||1 3/4||1 3/4|
|5||ACROSS FRONT @ 5″ FROM HPS||1/4||12||12 3/8||12 3/4||13 1/8|
|6||FRONT YOKE WIDTH -ALONG SEAM||1/4||13 1/8||13 1/2||13 7/8||14 1/4|
|7||CHEST 1″ BELOW ARM EXTEND||1/4||20 1/4||21||21 3/4||22 1/2|
Many professional inspectors will use a tolerance equal to half a grade for the measurements in the absence of tolerances that you provide.
In a typical inspection, one or pieces per garment item will be measured at random, and all dimensions will be recorded in a measurement table. This table lets you see each measurement for all sizes and will indicate whether or not particular dimensions are within tolerance.
Dimensions found outside of tolerance can be a serious QC problem, since any discrepancy found is likely present in many or all pieces of the effected item and size.
Here are some helpful tips for measuring dimensions of garments:
On-site testing during inspection is an integral component of quality control for garments. There are many on-site tests performed during a typical garment inspection. Testing during inspection ensures that you’re receiving a finished product that meets your expectations for quality. You want your inspector to be able to verify that the factory is sticking to your specifications in regard to:
Below are some of the more common on-site tests performed during a product inspection for garments.
Fitting test: Put the garment on a model or dummy to check that it fits correctly.
Dry/wet crocking test: Crocking tests involve rubbing a piece of white fabric on each color of the garment for 10 repetitions to check if there is any color transfer. The dry crock test uses a dry piece of fabric, and the wet crock uses a wet piece.
Steam strength test: All garments are stretched along the seams and edges/openings (armholes, necklines, etc.) using a normal force to ensure no cracking of the stitching or binding. Any trims (sequins, beading, etc.) are checked to ensure they are secure and will stretch with the garment without breaking.
Fatigue test of fastener: Buttons, zippers, snaps, etc. are tested 50 times per fastener to ensure that there is no loss of function after use.
Stretch test: Elastic fabric and straps are stretched to check elasticity. They should have proper elasticity without elastin fibers or broken stitches.
SPI check: Stitches per Inch (SPI) is checked by means of an appropriate measuring tape. It is also visually compared with the SPI of the bulk garments inspected during the regular inspection to make sure they are consistent.
If you are having trouble with the overall quality of the fabric, there may be an underlying problem with the material composition. It may a good idea to have samples pulled of all materials used in the assembly of a particular garment to have them tested in a laboratory.
Samples of colorants, decorative stones or sequins and the base fabric itself can all be subjected to a battery of lab tests. A qualified lab can tell you material composition, flammability and other characteristics that may be essential to your order. These tests ensure adherence to safety and industry standards and show the material composition of each piece.
Lab testing is also able to identify a range of issues such as extractable heavy metals, phthalates and formaldehyde, colorfastness, flammability, fiber analysis, light exposure and wet and dry-cleaning properties.
It’s worth mentioning that many factories will claim to have qualified lab set up for testing the fabric or garments they manufacture. Some of factories do actually have a professional and capable lab. But many others have, at best, a crude lab for product testing.
It’s clear that many types of tests for garments are simple to conduct. But for professional-grade lab testing, such as material composition, the factory’s own lab may not be adequate. Take a look at your supplier’s own lab testing capabilities to determine whether or not they are qualified.
Several certification bodies exist for various types of lab testing, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Find out which are applicable for your products to learn the best approach to lab testing.
Whether you decide to hire an independent inspector or carry out inspection yourself, checking the goods before they leave the factory is an important aspect of quality control for garments. Inspection should include a series of vital on-site tests for garments, which are a cost-effective way to verify attributes like seam strength, stitching, fabric density and others.
Trouble with garment quality can stem from any number of factors. It is vital to consider the measurement information you’ve outlined in your QC checklist, the different tests that are performed on your garments and whether you need to employ a third party lab to test your product.
Understanding the requirements of garment quality and inspection will help to ensure that your finished goods meet your standards.
Stacy Bruce is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in Asia for clients in the US, EU and Australia.